Kumunkanda by Kayo Chingonyi; A Graph Review

Kumukanda          by  Kayo Kumukanda

                                                                                                           A Graph Review.

graph 66 to 68

                                                                               Points:  a Good 60-68

 

Paperback     £10.

Chatto & Windus

Once again I find I am almost a timeslip away from a poet and his world.  This time I am taken, live into the hidden areas (to me) of music and culture in East London and Essex by super-constructions of garage mix music in words creating a reality I could never know.   The poetry changing styles as the author grows in age and family hierarchy, always observant and at times poignant but ever tracing reality and truth in developing subjects that progress to his maturity.

This is personal in recording the passage of time and events; registering it as a ‘rite of passage’ for a boy born in Zambia 1987 and living in the UK from the age of six.  Culture clashing within himself as well as in schools and on the streets.  Of Zambia, British surroundings and Black, we read of his touchstones and conflicts through a young life to maturity.

Many poems catch the reader by prodding at the difficulties of his and his contemporaries’ growing up.  Poems not always easy but subtley moving forward.  The simple observations on walking with friends, cricket and a stage performance to cite a few annoy me on his behalf but the telling of his poems shows the quality, strength and his belief in his work and himself.  But it is all from a world I can mostly only see as an outsider.  His pain, anger so visible too, as well as pride, growth and love all fill this collection.

My favourites:    Self Portrait as a Garage Emcee,  Alternate Take, Proud Blemish

but really this is a collection that should be read as a whole, in a sitting.

This collection is powerful storytelling with a satisfying range of poetry, some of which is unsettling but justified; and with a blistering mastery of language.

As a first collection there are some poems deserving classroom attention for GCSE students upwards, potentially more for higher ages…….  This is proof that our poetry has once again found new direction with new voices.

Will it win the Costa Prize for Poetry?  A deserving shortlist for sure but it is not me to judge!

 

 

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Owl Poems

A bit of a mis-nomer this title.    Should be something like:

Where are the observation poems on owls?  

I was reading Owl, by Jean Whitfield and I couldn’t recall any other specific poems on observation of owls by other poets……..I thought there must be lots,  by Clare or Edward Thomas, maybe Tennyson and Wordsworth et al.    Here I admit to small knowledge of current poetry, performance or otherwise; and  very limited on likes of Motion, Armitage, Cope, Plath and others of the myriad of now established poets or recent past ones.     But historically there seem to be very few, as few as the rare sightings of owls by the likes of average me!

Owl            by Jean Whitfield   from ‘Moments’, Bakery Press

Composed by the roadside

he weighed a level branch down

knowing he was beautiful

the clear white sweep of him

 

tufted ears and round orange head

he blinked his eyes

rested iron claws easy

let us see enough of him

 

and finding undercurrents

lifted slowly, wafted wide wings

poised in the even air

figure skated on the breeze

 

allowed himself to fall

a small space gracefully

and rolled the lazy evening

forward and backward

over the hump in the road

 

he hung on those sunken eyes

swung over the field-hedge

Poured down from that low sky

– was gone.

A strong image that gives us  an image of an owl in flight.  Artists often draw them as such, often in silhouette.  Yes owls exist in poems; briefly, as hoots or eyes or metaphysically wise, but why haven’t I found many ‘naturalist’ views of that simple, beautiful bird?     Well, maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough so will keep searching.  Another possibility is that as they are nocturnal hunters they have not been observed like other birds.  Surely Clare or other ‘naturalist’ poets would have seen them well enough?

If anyone can point me to a poet, ideally pre 1930, with an owl poem to their name (and title) then I would much appreciate the help.    Also, any current poets that have an Owl poem/s that they can send and authorise to be published on Poetryparc and Wordparc sites then I will sort some out for inclusion on future pages. (Copyright will be retained by the author).   Suggested closing date is end of January 2018: this is not a competition, it’s an opportunity!    Email: wordparc@gmail      subject      ‘Owls’

This is the new title from Whittet Books whose cover and superb photos inside started me off on this woodland ramble: my adornments!!

full details and available  via:

https://wordery.com#oid=1316 1

and search for :     The Barn Owl

isbn  978 1 873580 89 9         hb

The Owls                    by Charles Baudelaire

Under the overhanging yews,

The dark owls sit in solemn state,

Like stranger gods; by twos and twos

Their red eyes gleam.

They meditate.

Motionless thus they sit and dream

Until that melancholy hour

When, with the sun’s last fading gleam,

The nightly shades assume their power.

From their still attitude the wise

Will learn with terror to despise

All tumult, movement, and unrest;

 

For he who follows every shade,

Carries the memory in his breast,

Of each unhappy journey made.

The poem above is a variation of the wise or mystical owl as they sit in a churchyard.  Not actively designated as such but of an ‘attitude’ that you might be wise to follow as ‘shades’ can be interpreted as many things, not only churchyard ‘happenings’.

I did find Ted Hughes’   The Owl: a short poem and purely owl but a briefest of image, and likely true.  A glimpse, much like sightings can be, I suppose.    An accurate description but an air of mystery is hinted at by the contrasting colours and time between first and last final two lines.    ‘a fine dust’ raises the question of  ‘what is it?’   The disjointed lines  are another way of keeping the reader slightly off-balance.  In the last line the subject, the owl, is just not there in the light of day.     The whole poem, simple observation written with a poet’s eye.

The Owl                           by Ted Hughes        (faber & faber)

The path was purple in the dusk.

I saw an owl, perched,

on a branch.

And when the owl stirred, a fine dust

fell from its wings,

I was

silent then.

And felt

the owl quaver.

And at dawn, waking,

the path was green, in the

May light

 

Halloween, 2018, j Johnson Smith

Epicurean Epitaph                                                       jJohnson Smith

They said I’d die of fever, overheating.

I died of ‘Masterchef’,  overeating.

……………………………………….

 

Harvest-time.

The Reaper came and with a grin

asked how much time I’d like to borrow.

I thought awhile then looked at him

and requested to die tomorrow.

He stepped back into shadow and

waved his sickled hand,

asked me politely to follow

to his pleasant Netherland.

When I declined he bowed and said

he could never come tomorrow

but would be my friend and dine with me

and contemplate our sorrows.

 

Together we sit, he and I,

amongst the dead and dying.

He no longer talks but only grins

and I wait for tomorrow.

…………………………

Wrong words in the wrong place.

When I said, “I’d lost my mind”.

you took it so literally!    I didn’t mean to cause

that panic over such a little thing.

Because it really was just a passing phase.

A little phrase that covers many things

of dos or donts  or maybe-shouldn’t-haves

and never-do-agains.       From which I’ve  learned

(or hope I have) to re-think ways of saying; badly;

that I am madly in love with you.

 

………      Just loosen the buckles a little,

Let my arms relax, I feel like a skittle in this padded room;

though nice and plump it looks, ………

Reminding me of you; when we kissed beneath that moon.

When the black backed night had gone and I paraded myself

in the garden, calling your name in such memorable verse.

When I vowed, or something worse, to follow you to the end of the Earth.

………. Or maybe I didn’t.  It was someone else.  Not me….

This collar is tight…….

And when love blinds you to the world, does it have the right

to insist you wear this suit?  A jacket so tight that it binds your heart

and barely leaves your mind free to wander.  To wander in a storm

that chews the words and spits them out against your best intention?

 

tagged under: seasons

Lorna Goodison: Guinea Woman and Selected Poems

After reading ‘I am Becoming My Mother’, I take a look at Guinea Woman and For My Mother, a collection published in 2000.

Guinea Woman & Selected Poems

Lorna Goodison

paperback       published 2000,    Carcanet

Maybe it is me but there is always a lushness to Lorna Goodison’s poetry.  The feel of her words surrounding you as you read, a sorrow or bittersweet note coloured by the undergrowth of her formative island home.  Even the harshness of some poems are influenced by the colour and warmth of her environment in the Caribbean, others to the more  sombre landscapes of  the North and Europe.  Even here she is able to prick the poems with colour.

Lorna Goodison’s poetry is a distinct counterbalance to the bright-glittering lines of my last read: Smoothie, by Claudine Toutoungi (Carcanet)

Guinea Woman  contains poems from the publications: I Am Becoming My Mother and   Heartease plus a great many as ‘New and Selected’

I mention above ‘lushness’ and depth (undergrowth) and her tone of bittersweet.  I should pick up also on the fact that within these emotions lies a core of flashing steel; or maybe I should refer you to her poem ‘On Becoming a Tiger’ which for me suggests her need to become such, maybe as a self-portrait.  Deeper into this collection and her poems become more extended.  Throughout she frequently places the role of the poet to sit with the people, those torn away and subjugated but still surviving.  Their history, her history, and the catching at truth in the midst of the islands.  Yet despite the hardships of the past or her then present, the enveloping plants and sweet smelling herbs give succour and support.  Her poetry is frequently about the ‘injustice’ (To put it oh-so too mildly!) of people against one another, of the world of transportation and slavery and how that ‘hinge’ has weighed down so many people.  Yet hope, beauty and humanity survive despite the failure of history to truly recompense and the continued need to call for true freedom.

Read.   Elephant.

and:  In city gardens grow no roses as we know them

I have never been to Jamaica but in reading Lorna Goodison I can believe in the heat, the colour, the rhythm of life and language, the humour and both injustice and truth of this sensuous world she shows us.

You can meet her family here and a wealth of people in the pleasure of her verses and the justly acute observations on history and still the present, that sadden and frustrate.  When she is far away from her origins you hear that too.  Her anger and maybe scorn sometimes surprises the reader in poems.

Noting the particular pleasure I had in reading : The Mango of Poetry, I offer this to any poet, would-be or active as a balance to some texts on writing poetry.   I have just see that this poem is is also highlighted on the back cover of her latest full collection since she became Poet Laureate of Jamaica on 17th May 2017 ( until 2020).

All-in-all, this may be a collection published in 2000 but it is a grand set to read and covet.  But then, now a more complete selection is published  perhaps that should become my standard!    Of her work, to quote the last verse of  The Mango of Poetry:   ‘And I say that this too would be/ powerful and overflowing/ and a fitting definition/ of what is poetry.’

 

I Am Becoming My Mother may be a classic poem, ripe for study, but to gather the fruits of this author you really need to dig only a little deeper and Guinea Woman: New & Selected Poems should satisfy any reader of Poetry whatever their main interest.

I have indicated a few favourites in the text above, others in this memorable collection to recommend are:

To Mr William Wordsworth, distributor of stamps for Westmorland..….( a poem for students of the W.W. too, surely?).

Annie Pengelly,   God a Me,  and  Guinea Woman

I am sorry to have missed her visit to England in July 2017.  Maybe another time.

 

Colours of Autumn by John Clare; October by Edward Thomas

 

Colours of Autumn.             John Clare

Now that the year is drawing to a close

Such mellow tints on trees and bushes lie

So like to sunshine that it brighter glows

As one looks more intently.  On the sky

I turn astonished that no sun is there;

The ribboned strips of orange, blue and red

Streaks through the western sky a gorgeous bed,

Painting day’s end most beautifully fair,

So mild, so quiet breathes the balmy air,

Scenting the perfume of decaying leaves

Such fragrance and such loveliness they wear-

Trees, hedgerows, bushes- that the heart receives

Joys for which language owners words too few

To paint that glowing richness which I view.

 

October.                                          Edward Thomas

The green elm with the one great bough of gold

Lets leaves into the grass slip, one by one,  –

The short hill grass, the mushrooms small milk-white,

Harebell and scabious and tormentil,

That blackberry and gorse, in dew and sun,

Bow down to; and the wind travels too light

To shake the fallen birch leaves from the fern;

The gossamers wander at their own will,

At heavier steps than bird’s the Squirrels scold.

 

The rich scene has grown fresh again and new

As Spring and to the touch is not more cool

Than it is warm to the gaze; and now I might

As happy be as earth is beautiful,

Were I some other or with earth could turn

In alteration of violet and rose,

Harebell and snowdrop, at their season due,

And gorse that has no time not to be gay.

But if this be not happiness,  – who knows?

Some day I shall think this is a happy day,

And this mood by the name of melancholy

Shall no more blackened and obscured be.

………………

You could follow reading Clare’s poem, Colours of Autumn immediately with the Thomas’  ‘October‘ first verse through to the line…… ‘as happy be as earth is beautiful’  in the second verse and they might be mistaken as a single voice.  However Thomas’ lines after this begin to slide away into a questioning of his mood and ability to find what his personal ‘peace of mind may be’.  Hopeful, perhaps, but not convinced.

Clare’s poem illustrates his more positive view of life.     His moods may have varied tremendously over the years but overall his personal outlook was positive despite the tremendous difficulties of his life and times.   It seems to me (albeit a terrible over simplification) that Clare was a glass half-full sort of man whilst Edward Thomas a glass half-empty man.  Clare could find a great deal of peace in solitude and observation whereas Thomas could see the beauty but not ‘feel’ it.  It is also interesting to consider that both men lived through periods of social and political turmoil at turns of (different) centuries: not forgetting the differences in their social groups.

 

‘October’ and ‘The Sun Used to Shine’ Edward Thomas

two poems from: Poems  by  Edward Thomas

Published 1917 by Selwyn & Blount

 

October

The green elm with the one great bough of gold

Lets leaves into the grass slip, one by one,  –

The short hill grass, the mushrooms small milk-white,

Harebell and scabious and tormentil,

That blackberry and gorse, in dew and sun,

Bow down to; and the wind travels too light

To shake the fallen birch leaves from the fern;

The gossamers wander at their own will,

At heavier steps than bird’s the Squirrels scold.

 

The rich scene has grown fresh again and new

As Spring and to the touch is not more cool

Than it is warm to the gaze; and now I might

As happy be as earth is beautiful,

Were I some other or with earth could turn

In alteration of violet and rose,

Harebell and snowdrop, at their season due,

And gorse that has no time not to be gay.

But if this be not happiness,  – who knows?

Some day I shall think this is a happy day,

And this mood by the name of melancholy

Shall no more blackened and obscured be.

 

The Sun Used to Shine

 

The sun used to shine while we two walked

Slowly together, paused and started

Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked

As either pleased. and cheerfully parted

 

Each night.  We never disagreed

Which gate to rest on.  The to be

And the late past we gave small heed.

We turned from men or poetry

 

To rumours of the war remote

Only till both stood disinclined

For aught but the yellow flavorous coat

Of an apple wasps had undermined;

 

Or a sentry of dark betonies,

The stateliest of small flowers on earth,

At the forest verge; or crocuses

Pale purple as if they had their birth

 

In sunless Hades fields.  The war

Came back to mind with the moonrise

Which soldiers in the east afar

Beheld then.  Nevertheless, our eyes

 

Could as well imagine the Crusades

Or Caesar’s battles.  Everything

To faintness like those rumours fades  –

Like the brook’s water glittering

 

Under the moonlight – like those walks

Now – like us two that took them, and

The fallen apples, all the talks

And silences – like memory’s sand

 

When the tide covers it late or soon,

And other men through other flowers

In those fields under the same moon

Go talking and have easy hours.

Both poems fit the season of Autumn.   October splits into two sections where all is simply observed in the first stanza with the second initially pointing out the freshness of the scenes after the likely summer heat and fading of the summer flowers.  Freshness brought on with the change in the weather and arrival of  the cool and moisture; new colours of autumn foliage and fruits.  But the initial sense of the poem and its seasonality is disrupted by the author’s sudden insecurity of his senses.  Maybe he would find the emergence of Spring or Summer flowers as, or more engaging as they appeared.  He points out that his frame of mind may account for his preference for autumn melancholy.  This may well be true for him and his struggles with depression but his observation on the changes that autumn bring are true and widely appreciated by many observers of the countryside.  Each change of season brings its own brand of spectacular beauty in variance to the previous.

The Sun Used to Shine  also fits the seasonal embrace but here we could dig much deeper into the subtleties of references.  When was it written?  Seemingly early in WW1, was Edward Thomas writing after he enlisted?  His reflections on the companionship might be when walking with his wife, or his friends Robert Frost or Eleanor Farjeon, or others.  He was a great walker!  As part of his work as a writer as well as his need for open space and exercise to keep his mind clear.    Autumn slips in with the fallen apples but seasonality is not the real focus here, rather memory of happier times that have been overtaken by the melancholy of  rumours of war that intrude with sentry of dark betonies.  Even the wasps take on an afterthought of despoiling memory.  Further in, ‘old war’ intrude into the poem but indirectly focusing on that present time of early WW1.

The last two verses are like closing a door on the past and assuming others will have to continue that companionable journey.  His prescience, expectation of death or just that the past could not be re-enacted ever again because of the change wrought by war?

The third from last line: And other men through other flowers    seems to have been taken and slightly rewritten into     Other Mens Flowers  for a famous anthology collected by A.P.Wavell (Field Marshall Earl Wavell) and published in 1944 by Jonathan Cape.    It may be considered a bit of a period-piece now but a wonderful collection nevertheless.   Slightly to my surprise it has neither this poem by Edward Thomas nor any of his in the collection.

 

 

National Poetry Day 2017:

 

The UK National Poetry Day theme for 2017 is ‘Freedom’ 

poems,  one by JJ Smith  and one by Jean Whitfield

Gated                                                          J Johnson Smith   ( for John  Clare)                                                 

This gate I may not pass through.

Five bars that bar my way, a notice plea to shut

when shackles hold it to.

And yet it seems something that I must do

or seek another path to the shepherd’s hut,

a pleasant grassy hoo.

On muddied path I would sneak and twist

along a nettled bank, sharply observed

and scornfully warned by the blackbird

that hides more subtly but breaks to protect its nest

from the likes of me and all the rest.

Must this gate stand a barrier evermore,

a symbol of enclosure’s yoke?

It must, like any bolted door,

for future use be broke.

 

This poem by Jean Whitfield, published by Bakery Press, published 1985.

Prayer

 

Happiness used to make me speechless

but now it has given me voice:

 

at my friend’s table where the glasses stand

and the full red wine is my winking joy

and our words fly like darting birds

flashing between us the shadows of our meanings

lightly touching our lips with all our laughing;

 

in the strength of the singer who brings me hope

from the wet lamp lit streets, the crooked pavements

the girls laughing arm in arm going to the meeting

and thoughtful foreheads between the railings

outside the factory walls making decisions for the new day;

 

that the older women will not brook divisions

between us remembering their mothers’ pain

the bent and broken saucepan balanced on the flame

the stewing bone and the wasted child’s silence

turning in the corner under the damp linen

and the new child turning under her own thin-ribbed bones;

 

and the railway worker who bled in the trenches

seeing thousands and thousands of deaths in the poppies

that fall round the shifting numbed feet of the rulers

remembers the whip of the hunter and would send him again

down the narrow track to the river’s dark deep;

 

while we are walking together through afternoons

our eyes half-closed at the smoking rain

our hands cradling fruit, flowers, a round new loaf

we must not let go our determination, our power

we must not stop wanting the intricate spider

the motionless heron, the smallest singing gnat

the green pyramids of blossom on the tree dancing

the whole of the ringing sunset when it touches the top

the top of the dancing tree, touches the snow

we must not give away even the rounded, the various

the curled, the bulbous, unfurling, riotous, heaped springing grasses.